The Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region became the “arsenal of democracy” — the greatest manufacturing center in the world-in the years during and after World War II, thanks to natural advantages and a welcoming culture. Decades of unprecedented prosperity followed, memorably punctuated by riots, strikes, burning rivers, and oil embargoes. A vibrant, quintessentially American character bloomed in the region’s cities, suburbs, and backwaters.

But the innovation and industry that defined the Rust Belt also helped to hasten its demise. An air conditioner invented in Upstate New York transformed the South from a sweaty backwoods to a non-unionized industrial competitor. Japan and Germany recovered from their defeat to build fuel-efficient cars in the stagnant 1970s. The tentpole factories that paid workers so well also filled the air with soot, and poisoned waters and soil. The jobs drifted elsewhere, and many of the people soon followed suit.

Nothin’ but Blue Skies tells the story of how the country’s industrial heartland grew, boomed, bottomed, and hopes to be reborn. Through a propulsive blend of storytelling and reportage, celebrated writer Edward McClelland delivers the rise, fall, and revival of the Rust Belt and its people.


“Engagingly written….McClelland’s book reminds us of what has transpired in the heart of the country over the past 30 years and of the battering endured by hundreds of thousands of working-class families as global corporatism and federal trade policies gutted the American middle class.”

Los Angeles Times

“McClelland is a terrific reporter, smoothly blending facts from the historical record with the bitter, often profane, conversation of the displaced and desperate men and women he meets and his own reflections. These last are often as witty as they are shrewd.”

The Washington Post

“Focusing on personal tales of woe with sympathy and verve, McClelland brings home the impact of the titanic shift in industry in the last half of the twentieth century…. The result provides an answer for anyone who has ever looked at a shuttered factory and asked, Why?”


“McClelland’s knack for turning a phrase (‘My last two full-time jobs no longer exist. For a Generation-Xer, tales from the 1960s are employment porn.’) allows him to tie together these auto and steel towns and capture touching, personal tales so as to bring these dying municipalities back to life, if only on the page…. A reservoir of information about American manufacturing, labor unions, and social movements, McClelland’s book, ironically, stands as a testament to the simple truth that one steel worker told him: ‘You can’t grow an economy without making things, producing stuff.’ ”

Publishers Weekly

“McClelland helps to make the old feel new by drawing on a combination of personal contacts, extensive interviewing and acute observation based on showing up and hanging out. Little-known details emerge throughout…. his book is admirably long on explanation and empathy.”

Kirkus Reviews

“McClelland, a former newspaper reporter, is an engaging writer with an ear for local voices. He has a knack for the memorable phrase and often lends a poetic touch to urban affairs….by memorializing the best days of American labor, he reminds us of just how much we had. And, of course, how much we lost.”

Robert Smith, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Edward McClelland, who knows the territory, has produced a dazzling and heart-breaking piece of front-line reporting on the glory days and collapse of the industrial heartland, and on the pain and resilience of the people left in its wreckage. From Syracuse and Buffalo to Flint and Chicago, we meet the workers who wonder what has happened to their lives. Raw and vibrant, Nothin’ But Blue Skies sings the Rust Belt blues.”

Richard C. Longworth, author of Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism

“In Nothin’ But Blue Skies, Edward McClelland assembles old-school reporting, memoir, history and wit into a brilliant story about the workers and robber barons who created booming economies, the strikes, politics and global changes that rendered them depressed, and the people from Decatur to Syracuse trying to figure out what’s next. Neither starry-eyed nor despairing, Nothin’ But Blue Skies is the book to read on the past, present, and future of the Rust Belt.”

Anne Trubek, author of A Skeptic’s Guide to Writer’s Houses and co-editor of Rust Belt Chic